The social media panel discussion I participated in at the 2012 TransUnion Property Management Summit last week in Denver was astonishing for what did and didn’t happen. What did happen: The audience of multifamily professionals seemed surprisingly – if not a tiny bit begrudgingly – accepting of property ratings and reviews. They’re here to stay and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, was the prevailing attitude. Begrudging acceptance will never be confused with warm embrace, but what I witnessed was a giant leap from the outright resistance prevalent in the industry up until now.
And that’s a good thing. There’s plenty of research indicating how important reviews are in making a big purchasing decision, and there’s none bigger than deciding where to live.
Which dovetails nicely into what didn’t happen at the panel discussion, namely the virtual tar-and-feathering of fellow panelist Wade Hewitt, VP of the Home Division of Internet Brands, parent company to ApartmentRatings.com, the target (some of it understandably, IMO) of much of the industry’s ire towards ratings and reviews sites. Hewitt started by acknowledging that, up until now, ApartmentRatings.com had largely been staying out of the fray, perhaps the wrong message to send when trying to preach engagement in the conversation. So, Hewitt faced the fire, and made a compelling defense for reviews and his site’s approach, including why they allow anonymous reviews (to ease the users’ fears – particularly current residents – of potential retribution). He also tipped his hand on future product development, which includes more robust tools for property managers to monitor, facilitate and engage in the dialog. Before you could say “Burn him!” the pitchforks had been put away, and a healthy discussion on the merits of reviews was underway.
The third panelist, Craig Donato, founder and CEO of Oodle, played the contrarian to Hewitt’s pro-reviews stance, asserting that reviews’ relevance and utility were secondary to the more powerful social recommendation. I agreed in part with Donato, but there’s too much evidence to suggest that, while not on par with a recommendation from a friend, reviews are compelling, not to mention provide a nice SEO boost, thanks to Google’s lust for all user-generated content.
Riverstone EVP of Property Services, Maitri Johnson, the panel’s outstanding moderator, obviously knows her audience well, and brought up the question of Return on Investment (ROI). Here, Donato and I were on the same page, urging the audience to be less concerned with measuring a hard lease-per metric on social media efforts and focus instead on building an online community (Donato had earlier given an excellent talk on Facebook.com with some very handy tips for property managers). Donato, whose Oodle powers the Marketplace app on Facebook, may be more bullish on social media as a search platform than I am, but he made an excellent comparison to SEO: Ten years ago, when SEO was nascent, those who built a search strategy gave themselves a tremendous advantage over the laggards. Now, he asserted, is the time to be building a strategic advantage in social media marketing. And, I couldn’t agree more.
P.S. A special shout-out to the organizers of the TransUnion Property Management Summit for the gracious invitation and hospitality. The entire event was a true pleasure.
What are your thoughts on property ratings and reviews? Do you think that a social recommendation is more powerful?